University awarded £3.1m to support next phase of communications revolution

The University of York has been awarded £3.1m from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to support development of the UK’s growing 5G network and the evolution of 6G communications.

The Government funding is part of DSIT’s Open Networks Programme: Open Networks Ecosystem Competition and brings together a group of partners to find new solutions to improve the delivery of mobile phone data in densely populated areas.

Tourist hotspots drive significant volumes of mobile traffic, presenting a challenge to existing mobile technologies.

This new project, called REACH, will use the university’s experience in developing Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) solutions to deliver improved data connections in areas which regularly host high numbers of visitors.

Project partners will develop O-RAN software and hardware systems and run trials to demonstrate the new technology.

One of the trials will install and use innovative infrastructure in Blackpool, supported by project partners Blackpool Council and Virgin Media O2.

The infrastructure will be deployed in the resort’s busiest areas, including the promenade and Winter Garden.

It will deliver high speed connectivity and allow user demand and energy usage to be better managed, as well as allowing multiple operators to share the infrastructure.

Professor David Grace, from the School of Physics, Engineering and Technology at the University of York, said Blackpool was an important location for the trial.

He added: “Mobile data needs in Blackpool are driven by large fluctuations in demand depending on the season and time of day.

“Small cells will be installed on street furniture, utilising the town’s dark fibre running the length of the promenade, enabling connection into local data centres housing the core network and distribution units.

“The trial will show how the system can scale to meet the wide variety of technical demands seen in this tourist hotspot.”

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business.

“In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network.

“The projects we’re backing with £88m in Government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.”

The university will lead work on a Radio Access Network Intelligent Controller, with testing supported by Viavi Solutions.

Laboratory-based development of novel 6G technologies will take place in the university’s Institute for Safe Autonomy.

Other project partners include AQ Ltd which will carry out trials aimed at delivering increased gigabit speed to users, and social enterprise Cybermoor leading the management of the project.

Grace said network security will be a priority for the project, noting: “Underpinning all work will be a security framework, developed by Safenetics, which will deal holistically with security threats, including cybersecurity.”